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Mosley [née Curzon], Lady Cynthia Blanchelocked

(1898–1933)
  • Duncan Sutherland

Mosley [née Curzon], Lady Cynthia Blanche (1898–1933), politician and society figure, was born at The Priory, Reigate, Surrey, on 23 August 1898, the second of three daughters of George Nathaniel Curzon, later first Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (1859–1925), and his first wife, the American heiress Mary Victoria Leiter [see Curzon, Mary Victoria (1870-1906)]. Her parents considered giving her an Indian name, as Curzon was about to become viceroy of India, but decided that Monyabai or Gyanadai would be too much for a child. Cimmie, as she was known, lived in India until 1905 and later attended school as a boarder at The Links in Eastbourne. During the First World War she worked as a War Office clerk, earning 30s. a week, and as a land girl, where she enjoyed the change of lifestyle. She took courses in social work at the London School of Economics before utilizing her training in the East End of London. She was already something of a rebel against the dictates of her class, and her father's hope that she would marry a peer was dashed when she married the Conservative MP Oswald Ernald Mosley (1896–1980), from 1928 sixth baronet, whom she had met during Nancy Astor's by-election campaign in 1919. Their wedding took place on 11 May 1920 in the Chapel Royal. They had two sons and a daughter.

Throughout their marriage her husband was chronically unfaithful, but Cynthia Mosley followed him loyally through the vicissitudes of his political career, joining the Labour Party with him in 1924. By any estimation they were unlikely Labour converts—'a pair of magnificent cuckoos in the Labour Party nest'—but their glamour and popular Labour garden parties at Savehay Farm, Denham, made them celebrities within the movement (Brookes, 80). They faced a bitterly hostile Conservative press and she was the likely target of the Conservative play Lady Monica Waffle's Debut (1926), about a rich society woman's left-wing pretensions. At party gatherings she stood out in her fur stole and jewellery, but the 'diamond dress' for which newspapers criticized her was in fact decorated with glass baubles. She was tall and attractive with dark hair, prominent teeth, and a square chin, and her father felt she looked the most ‘Curzon’ of his daughters, though in later years she became heavier owing to illness and stress, and one contemporary remembered her constantly wearing a sad expression.

After campaigning for her husband in 1924 Cynthia Mosley was sought as a candidate by a number of constituencies before being nominated for Stoke-on-Trent. During the general election of 1929 she was mocked for her 'Hyde Park sentiments delivered in a Park Lane accent' (Skidelsky, 159n.) and was falsely accused of neglecting an impoverished brother. (She did, though, irreparably fall out with her father over his share of her considerable American inheritance.) None the less, she won by a 7850-vote majority, the largest swing to Labour of the election and one of the largest majorities of any inter-war woman MP. The Mosleys formed the third husband-and-wife team of MPs, and he presented her with a brooch bearing ‘7850’ set in rubies over a diamond portcullis of Westminster. However, the toll of the campaign was high, as she miscarried shortly afterwards.

Cynthia Mosley did not really understand socialism but had a long-standing sympathy for the underdog. In parliament she spoke on women's unemployment and widows' pensions, and in her memorable maiden speech she reversed the Conservative charge that unemployment insurance would 'demoralize' recipients.

All my life I have got something for nothing … Some people might say I showed remarkable intelligence in the choice of my parents but I put it all down to luck … A great many people on the opposite side of the House are also in that same position … Are we demoralised? … I stoutly deny that I am demoralised.

Hansard 5C, 421, 31 Oct 1929

Throughout their careers Cimmie's warmth and sincerity made her more popular and better trusted than her husband, but after he resigned ostentatiously from the Labour government in May 1930 she soon made the 'heart-breaking' decision to follow him out of the party. Despite the protests of her constituency association, many in the party still liked her and sympathized as she stood stoically by her mercurial and often cruel husband. Begging Trotsky for a visit in September, she told him she thought 'less than nothing' of the Labour government, but 'am a great admirer of yours'. She later swam the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe in 40 minutes ('I thought it so terribly in the Grand Style and Byronic and even rather Mosley' (N. Mosley, 160). She campaigned for her husband's ‘New Party’, but health considerations and political disillusionment prompted her not to seek re-election. After the party fared poorly in the 1931 election—Oswald came in last place when he stood for Cynthia's Stoke-on-Trent constituency—the New Party became in 1932 the British Union of Fascists (BUF). The violent struggle which he now believed was necessary was abhorrent to her gentle nature, and she threatened to distance herself from the BUF with a newspaper advertisement. But typically she remained publicly loyal, joining him and Mussolini at a fascist parade in Rome and investigating possible designs for a British fascist flag.

Despite the advantages which Cynthia Mosley brought her husband, it is difficult to consider her career as anything but an adjunct to his, and in some ways she was a victim of it. One colleague wrote that she was 'sacrificed to her husband's hurried ambitions' (Hamilton, 181), and she was probably better suited to home and society than to politics. She made little impact in parliament, where her artless speaking style contrasted with her father's, and her own conclusion was that the Commons was futile and a waste of time; among women MPs she is unique if only for subsequently rejecting parliamentarianism. In May 1931 she told readers of the Daily Sketch of her daunting thought that in parliament 'it does not really matter what you say, that it will have no effect on anyone at all, and that you might as well not say it' (N. Mosley, 204). When taunted in parliament that July about her six months' absence, her riposte was to say that 'going round the country … to rouse people to the incompetence of the Labour Government … is more important than sitting here' (Hansard 5C, 15 July 1931, col. 674). Her post-political life was increasingly lonely as her husband spent more time on his new cause and with his future wife, Diana Guinness. After an appendix operation she contracted peritonitis and died at 3 Wilbraham Place, London, on 16 May 1933. The leaders of all parties supported the construction of a memorial day-nursery in Kennington, and she was buried the following year in a tomb designed by Lutyens at Savehay Farm.

Sources

  • N. Mosley, Rules of the game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley (1982)
  • R. Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley (1975)
  • O. Mosley, My life (1968)
  • A. De Courcy, The viceroy's daughters (2000)
  • Hansard 5C (1931), 255.674
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.
  • M. A. Hamilton, Remembering my good friends (1944)
  • P. Brookes, Women at Westminster: an account of women in the British parliament, 1918–1966 (1967)
  • N. Nicolson, Mary Curzon (1977)
  • L. Manning, A life for education: an autobiography (1970)
  • M. I. Curzon, Baronness Ravensdale, In many rhythms: an autobiography (1953)
  • D. Jarvis, ‘British conservatism and class politics in the 1920s’, EngHR, 111 (1996), 59–84

Archives

  • U. Birm., personal and political MSS

Likenesses

  • J. S. Sargeant, drawing, priv. coll.

Wealth at Death

£20,951 2s. 1d.: probate, 11 June 1934, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

English Historical Review
, 5th ser. (1909–)
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]